>N43[never_lazarus]

Skrimp braced in his seat as the breaks came on. A flurry of wind kicked up as the car came to a quick stop on ruined roads.

“This is it, he says.” Skrimp opened his door and the cat jumped out.

Delilah put the car into park and stepped onto the frozen street. The sun was just beginning to rise somewhere beyond the shadow of the endless cityscape, she saw. The day’s first light diffused through the snow clouds that had set in so suddenly during the night. Her eyes fell on the doors to the slaughterhouse. “Have your gun ready,” she told Skrimp.

He checked its ammunition, thinking briefly about shooting the demon-cat. If it weren’t for the risk of noise, he would have, he thought. But there was no knowing what was beyond the graffitied doors before them. “You should stay in the car,” he said.

Delilah looked genuinely angry when he did. But he realized, it wasn’t out of offense. She nodded tightly, casting a wary gaze across the ghostly street. There was nothing she could do here. They both understood that.

She hasn’t killed before, Skrimp knew.

He loaded a round into the chamber.

I have.

Ashmedai was not impressed. “If Frode couldn’t make it, why do you think you will?”

“Did Frode have a gun?” He patronized the little monster.

Bitch, you’d need more than a gun to kill that lunatic.” The cat was waiting by the doors, glowering. “The only thing we can bring, that he couldn’t, is tact. You listening to me?”

“Don’t see w-why I should?” Skrimp found the door completely unlocked. “You so rude, man.”

“This is my life too, you dome-headed fuckboy.” As the entrance swung open, Ash went in first and stood in his way. “I have better vision, smell, stealth, and common sense, frankly. Stay here and let me scout ahead.”

The color in Skrimp’s face began to flush red with anger. Staring down at the physical symbol of his enemy, he couldn’t help but get distracted. Every ounce of vitriol he’d ever spewed was running through his mind.

Right here was the furry face of evil, he thought.

This thing is what fucking tears at everything good, intentionally rooting out our virtues. Everything it is, is a conscious work to invert nature. His finger twitched on the trigger.

He’d killed NPCs and human traitors. But this was one of them.

Ash didn’t have to think twice, seeing him frozen, barely containing his impulse. The cat bolted into the building. Reflexively, Skrimp raised his gun.

One little twitch was all it took.

He flinched as a piece of brass flew gracefully into the black, and the shot echoed off down the halls. The next sound to roll out was his shout of frustration. Realizing there was no more point, Skrimp started running.

“Let me know if you find him,” he broadcast.

Ash came back in his head with a, “fuck you.”

He was only angry with himself at this point. Though when he’d spoken, he’d half hoped no reply would come back.

There were very few lights dotting the passage he followed now, and doors on either side would have blood running out from beneath them. As he walked on, gun ready, it was like he was descending deeper into a predator’s den. The primal urge to get out was with him all the way.

In the pit of his stomach, he could feel the bad end ahead.

He stopped in his tracks as a door creaked open behind him. Whipping around to see, he was almost knocked down by the stench it had let loose.

The metal hand which reached out struggled to drag its body forward, slick with blood. A legless torso followed along, cut at the waist. As her head turned over to see Skrimp, he could make out the cavity where her frontal lobe had been. Inside, some kind of machine nested. Its many orange eyes locked onto him and a low hissing sounded.

Skrimp’s face flashed between horror and disgust.

These are the remnants. This place is inactive, he realized.

He was about to fire when Ash came through again in his head. “I’ve found Frode.”

He was more than happy to turn and run.

Skrimp honed in on Ash’s signal, finding his way down into the basement and to another massive door. This time, however, he could see the bolts in place.

The cat was sitting at its base. “I tracked his path to here.”

There was no signal.

Skrimp found the lever for the door. He took hold of the steel rod with both hands and pulled down. Slowly but surely, the bolts slid out of place.

Ash was silent as the door opened. Seeing the bloodsoaked throne and the machinery above, it gave him hesitation at the threshold. But Skrimp went immediately in, sloshing down into the flooded room in search.

It didn’t take him more than a second to find Frode.

By the water’s edge, half submerged, Frode lied face up. Rushing to his side, Skrimp propped him up and looked into his pale face. Frode’s green eyes stared back, unfocused, gazing off into space.

It can’t be.

Skrimp shook him. He pressed a finger to his neck, checking for a pulse. He saw the knife wound in Frode’s gut, and he went still.

Not again.

A gasp of horror echoed from behind him. He didn’t have to look to know.

You should’ve stayed in the car…

Delilah fell down at the threshold of the door next to Ash. She fell against its frame, her eyes shining. “He’s dead,” she said. She didn’t need him to tell her.

Skrimp breathed deeply, blinking a few times, before saying it anyway. He had to say it. “Y-yeah… He’s gone.”

Delilah buried her face, shaking.

Skrimp was lost. He couldn’t remember why he was running. Why he’d done any of the things he’d done. Just to see it all happen again?

There were no more words.

They sat there in the quiet until the sun was high.

 

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